Is it becoming a holiday tradition for Netflix to drop apocalyptic-anxiety-driven movies at a time of fun and cheer? Maybe not exactly, but the latest to be added to its roster, Leave the World Behind, is precisely the kind of cinema anybody with an existential crisis would love and hate at the same time. The premise is simple enough: a family decides to take a vacation in a luxurious rental home for a weekend that goes completely wrong when a cyberattack takes down all their devices, and the night brings in two unexpected strangers to the house. Whatever you’re thinking this is going to be, put it aside, because it’s not going to be that. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind is a 2-hour, 21-minute thrill fest that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. No, really, if you need a breather, pause the movie, because the second you think things are slowing down, they go to the most bizarre and unexpected places.
This Kafkaesque film is exactly what M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin and other such dreadful movies wished they could be. This is an odd comparison, but at some point, I was somehow reminded of Infinity Pool while watching this film, maybe because of the cinematography that really drives home the terror that is felt by the characters of this film. Now, that’s a hypersexual psychological horror that really messes with your head with its social commentary and distaste towards humans. But, interestingly, remove the hypersexual bit, and you’ve got yourself a very watered-down description for Leave the World Behind too. But of course, the most expected comparison of all would be to Netflix’s very own Don’t Look Up from 2021. While both of these films fit in the same categories, they’re still vastly different, and I would argue this is the better one.
I suppose we’ve all, at some point in our lives, felt like we hated the world, some of us more than others, and this film truly plays around with those thoughts and will have your head spinning just thinking. Social commentary has never looked more stylish than this, might I add, with the most incredible cast? I guess now we can say we’ve seen Ethan Hawke and Kevin Bacon in the same room. Jokes aside, every big name in this film delivers powerful punches with their precise acting. I never thought I’d ever find Julia Roberts despicable, but here we are. An actress so well known for her kindness on screen completely transforms into a paranoid and rather ruthless human being. Her sensitive and nonchalant husband, Ethan Hawke, is merely floating around in this film. This is totally out of context, but in a dialogue between Ethan and another character, the other person says, “You seem like the kind of person who has things come easy to them,” and that’s the perfect way to describe the role and the nature of how impeccably it’s portrayed.
Farrah Mackenzie, who plays 13-year-old Rosie, is a force to be reckoned with, while Charlie Evans, as Archie, the brother, is more laid-back, except for when he has one of the hardest scenes to watch in the film. Is it possible to be more captivated by a man? I’m not quite sure, but Mahershala Ali truly excels in his role and commands the screen like no other. It’s almost as if the role was written for him. Myha’la Harrold plays his daughter Ruth, who might have some of the snarkiest lines in cinema today. Just as much as the actors contribute to this weird little movie, the cinematography, editing, and sound make just as big an impact. Silence is so noisy, says George, Mahershala’s character, in one of the scenes, and the film doesn’t give you much time to realize that. Sound is everything here, as is the editing, which in parts takes you from one daunting situation to another in the most haphazard way, making you feel absolutely distraught. The colors are stunning, and the visuals too; even if the deer look very clearly fake, we have nothing to complain about.
Many will say this film is too on the nose with what it’s trying to say, but I’d argue it’s very clearly a product of its time. This is very much social satire meets high-octane, unnerving terror sprinkled through the film, making for an uneasy yet fruitful watch. This is definitely not a film for everyone, and many will definitely feel the runtime, but if you’re one who could watch Ari Aster’s 3-hour-long Beau Is Afraid, then this might be straight up your alley. Thinking back, this particular brand of film has really been getting attention lately, possibly because of everything the world has been through lately. I’d think Leave the World Behind (great wordplay once you see the film) is simply masterfully timed.
I am tempted to compare this film to 2009’s 2012, just for the sake of nostalgia, but all I’ll say is that Leave the World Behind is today’s 2012, in that way that it encapsulates the world’s reaction to such a situation and commits to such a cynical lens. If there was an award for maintaining alarming tension through a film, this one would certainly win it. I think what’s most fascinating about it, though, is how it incorporates bits of humor within that tension for some relief, making for a niche viewing experience. It’s almost as if it’s an inside joke between the audience and director Sam Esmail. In a year of long films, if you’re interested in seeing something unique and worth that long run-time, pick Leave the World Behind. For a thriller movie, there is equal attention given to the drama and the action in this film. It’s the former that really pushes the film’s appeal, though. I’d say if you’re open to some long dialogue and feeling that existentialism, give this one a go; at the same time, if it’s a cause for anxiety, skip this one completely. My personal score for Leave the World Behind would be 3.5 out of 5 stars.